The U.S. Department of the Interior recently released a report finding that the majority of gas and oil leases held offshore or on public lands are not in active production a result that does much to debunk claims by industry that land managers and environmentalists are unfairly obstructing production of these shared resources.
In fact, the report shows just how much power the industry wields in how those resources and the lands that overlay them are managed.
In addition to the finding of inactivity defined as a lack of exploration, development or production the report revealed that the industry declined to bid on many parcels offered by the Department of Interior for lease. The numbers are telling.
Of 37 million acres of offshore leases offered in 2010, only 2.4 million acres were sold. Onshore numbers were slightly better: 6.4 million acres were offered for lease, and there were takers for 3.6 million acres, the Interior report said.
Once those acres are leased, though, many of them sit idle, the report shows. For onshore parcels, the report found that 57 percent currently sit inactive. There is even less activity for offshore leases, where 70 percent are not in production, exploration or development.
The report provides a sound counterargument to the familiar industry refrain that it is harsh regulations and attempts from environmentalists to stop production of gas and oil. It would seem, given these findings, that the industry is putting the brakes on all by itself. The result is that resources deemed ready for extraction are cozily tucked away in their geologic beds, despite demand for those resources and the associated royalty payments their development would provide. In the meantime, the industry is clamoring for access to ever more acreage and opposing protection proposals for public lands, claiming they would hamper necessary energy development.
The Interior report suggests that industry would be well advised to put its money where its mouth is and make good on the leases it holds, and the concept is one embodied in proposed legislation. Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., are carrying a measure that would force industry to make use of the leases it owns, and there is similar legislation pending in the Senate. That legislative nudge, backed by the Interior Departments findings, should give industry a much-needed wake-up call that sitting on those leases indefinitely while simultaneously whining about lack of access is the worst kind of disingenuousness.
At the very least, the findings show that protection proposals for public lands are as reasonable an approach to managing shared resources as leasing them for energy development. Clearly there are places where development should not happen and, for all intents and purposes, is not happening.
Accordingly, opposing proposals that limit development in certain areas simply because there might be the potential to extract resources is half-baked logic that land managers and the public should reject. The facts as presented in the Interior report simply do not support such a notion.
firstname.lastname@example.org Megan Graham is director of the San Juan Citizens Alliance.